Now that the Phoenix Suns are most likely no longer focusing on the NBA Draft to build their team from the bottom up, Suns fans are destined to care a bit less about the annual Las Vegas ritual called Summer League.
In years past, the Suns had most of their big-boy lineup playing in that 10-day tournament. Just last year, while Shaquille Harrison and Davon Reed were for some reason the big focus of the SummerSuns, five of their top eight players in total minutes played were among the top 12 players in total minutes for the NBA Suns during the regular season.
Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo, Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender were mainstays from July through April this past season, though none were over 22 years old and most were underwhelming on the whole. There’s even a significant chance that none of Okobo, Jackson or Bender will be with the team next season, depending on how the offseason develops.
Will this year’s SummerSuns be filled with as many NBA rotation players? And is that even a good thing?
Barring early trades, as the Summer League takes place July 5-15 which is two weeks after the draft and five days after free agency and trade season begin, there are a great number of young Suns likely to make an appearance with the Summer team.
Most likely to play...
Is there a chance the first-team All-Rookie, and finalist for Rookie of the Year, play for the summer team?
Ayton posted one of the best rookie center seasons in league history with 16.3 points on 58.5% shooting, 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.9 blocks. He’s the only rookie in league history (per bball-ref, since 1946) to post that 16/10/58 combo. He’s got holes in his game (defense, shot-blocking, mature focus), but those won’t be solved in Summer League.
He is a man among boys in the NBA, let alone Summer League, but the Suns will have an entirely new coaching staff who bring new offensive and defensive schemes. Monty Williams won’t be coaching the kiddos himself, but one of his new assistants or two or three will be running the show and Williams will be coaching and teaching on the fringes the whole time.
Three years ago, the Suns had Devin Booker in a similar situation as Ayton — coming off a terrible team season but emerging as a first-team All-Rookie. Booker played the first three games, including a nationally televised game against the Celtics, before taking a victory lap.
I’d expect Ayton, who loves being in the gym and part of the team, to make himself available for the Summer League and don’t be surprised if he plays a game or three.
Of course you should see Bridges, who didn’t make any All-Rookie teams (he was the 11th highest vote getter on a 10-man team). This is exactly what Summer League is made for — to allow a second- or third-year player to show his growth since the season ended in a league that’s not bragging All-Star and All-NBA talent.
But Bridges’ game is not built for Summer League. The quiet Bridges likes to play defense and opportunistically score in the flow of an offense, while Summer League is built for pure scorers who can get hot from the outside and wow the fans with wiggle drives.
Last summer, Bridges averaged only 6.2 points in 20 minutes per game, and then 8.3 points in 29.5 minutes per game for the big league Suns.
However, Bridges did develop some passing abilities and even some isolation scoring skills throughout the season, so possibly the new coaching staff will want to experiment with making Bridges more of an offensive focus. And if that’s the case, Summer League is a great place to start.
De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo
No need to list these second-year point guards separately. Both are perfect for Summer League focus for a new coaching staff trying to see which one will fit best in the new offense and defensive schemes.
Expect these two guys — assuming neither is traded already — to get the most minutes on the team, including sharing the court at times.
Which player fits best with a Monty Williams team, even as the backup or third string point guard in 2019-20? That’s the biggest question of the Summer Suns right there.
Of course we should see Ray, the lanky power forward with more athleticism than skills at this point. Spalding signed to a non-guaranteed 2019-20 contract, so he will be playing for his future under Monty Williams on a team devoid of big men behind Ayton.
One of six rookies to get a starting nod for the Suns at some point last season, Spalding got time in late March through the end of the season and even posted a 21 points, 13 rebound, 3 steal, 3 block gem in the final week, helping the Suns to a win over the Pelicans.
Last year’s late second round pick played last year on a two-way contract, but only got into one Suns game (in December) before having terrible luck by nursing a sprain during the stretch run when he could have made a name for himself like Spalding did.
King does not really have any NBA skills, but he’s a big wing and brings a maturity to a locker room that could use it (he’s already 25 years old).
As it is, King is a free agent who could play for any summer team, but I can see where he might just stick around Phoenix and get the Suns to allow him to showcase himself for other teams in July.
Unlikely to play at all
I just can’t see any good reason to play Jackson this summer. He’s nearly aged out, entering his third year, and he was awful last summer trying to be the alpha and ending up being a punchline. Jackson shot only 24% from the field last summer, giving us a glimpse of what would be a really bad second year in the league.
I can’t see any way Jackson wants to play, or any way the Suns would want him there. All he can do is make things worse for himself.
Bender is a free agent as of July 1, so he will not be available for the Summer Suns.
Bright Side Meet Up!
Let’s run this back! Last year, about 20 Bright Siders came to our meetup on Saturday evening of opening weekend at a bar in the MGM at Vegas.
If you were there last year, you’d have met long time luminaries like Seth Pollack, Sreekar, Scott Howard, Kris Hanson, Bryan Gibberman and Suns podcasters Max (7 seconds or less), Paul, Justin and many more regulars on twitter and in the comment sections on here!
Let’s do this again!
We’ve already got the Solar Panel guys on tap — Tim Tompkins and Greg Esposito, plus me — and I’m sure the Fanning the Flames — Paul and Justin — guys are going again.
We will do this on Saturday night again, July 6, at a bar somewhere along the Strip.
Who else is planning to be there?